NEW JERSEY – The Division on Civil Rights (DCR) is proposing amendments to its rules under the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA), including amendments based on a law signed by Governor Murphy to expand protections for family leave related to COVID-19, according to Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
DCR’s rule proposal promotes the safety and well-being of New Jersey workers and their families by allowing more employees to take family leave for more reasons than ever before—including for reasons related to a public health emergency—without fear that they will lose their jobs as a result.
“No one should be forced to choose between keeping their job and taking care of their family,” Grewal said. “We are committed to protecting workers’ right to do both. With the family leave protections signed into law by Governor Murphy and the rule proposal announced today, we are ensuring that the rights of New Jersey workers are stronger than ever before.”
Published on March 1 in the New Jersey Register, DCR’s proposal includes the re-adoption of its existing NJFLA rules with amendments to reflect changes to the NJFLA signed into law in 2014, 2019, and 2020.
As amended, the NJFLA generally allows eligible employees of covered employers to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave during any 24-month period in order to care for or bond with a new child; to care for a family member, or someone who is the equivalent of family, with a serious health condition or who is isolated or quarantined because of suspected exposure to a communicable disease during a state of emergency; or to provide required care or treatment for a child during a state of emergency if their school or place of care is closed by order of a public official due to an epidemic of a communicable disease or other public health emergency.
When they return to work, eligible employees are generally entitled to return to the same position they held before leave.
The proposed rules will help New Jersey workers and their employers better understand who is eligible to take job-protected family leave and how to administer the benefit, which—especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic—is critical to families’ economic security.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted our world; Governor Murphy and the Legislature responded in part by allowing people to take job-protected leave to care for a family member who has COVID-19 or a child whose school is operating virtually because of COVID-19,” said DCR Director Rachel Wainer Apter. “The proposed rules are an important step in providing accurate guidance to employers and employees regarding what the NJFLA now requires.”
The proposed amendments include the following changes to the existing regulations, in accordance with recent changes to the NJFLA:
- Broaden the definition of job-protected “family leave” to include, in certain circumstances, leave from employment (1) to care for a family member who has been isolated or quarantined due to suspected exposure to a communicable disease or (2) to provide care for a child because the child’s school or place of care has been closed by order of a public official due to an epidemic or other public health emergency.
- Update the definition of “eligible employee” to allow a person to count—in applying the eligibility threshold—up to 90 days during which the person was laid off or furloughed by an employer due to that employer curtailing operations because of a state of emergency, including the COVID-19 emergency.
- Clarify that employees may provide their employers with less than 30 days’ advance notice of their intent to take family leave in some situations, including when the employee is requesting family leave to provide care for a family member due to a communicable disease epidemic.
- Broaden the definition of “family member” to include not only an employee’s child, parent, spouse, or partner in a domestic union, but also an employee’s parent-in-law, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or domestic partner; an employee’s other blood relatives; and any other individual with whom an employee can show a close association equivalent to a family relationship.
- Clarify that the definitions of “parent” and “child” include any parent-child relationship resulting from a valid written agreement with a gestational carrier, to more clearly secure the rights of many families, including LGBTQ+ families.
- Expand the definition of “covered employer” to include employers with 30 or more employees worldwide, consistent with the 2019 amendments to the NJFLA. The existing regulations cover employers with 50 or more employees. State and local government agencies of any size will continue to be covered employers under the proposal.
- Eliminate employers’ discretion to deny family leave requests from their highest-paid employees when the employee’s request is related to a declared public health emergency involving an epidemic of a communicable disease.
Once readopted and amended, the NJFLA regulations will continue to permit eligible employees to take job-protected family leave to provide care for a newborn or newly-adopted child, a child placed with an employee for foster care, or family members with a serious health condition. The regulations also will continue to ensure that employees returning from family leave are able to return to the position they held prior to taking leave or to an equivalent position.
DCR’s proposal is now subject to public comment. The proposed readoption with amendments, and information on how to submit a comment by April 30, 2021, can be viewed here.